Tuesday, December 31, 2013

There's Still Time to Give to CitySquare!

For far too many of us, poverty is an abstract concept. We know it exists, we know caricatures of poverty - the neighborhood kook, the guy on the corner who will certainly ask anyone for money so he can go to the liquor store and get a pint; the sister on the corner who will do anything for $5. These people are poor, but there are other poor people as well...

The father who struggles to find a job so he can feed his family
The mother who has to make difficult choice between work and childcare
The child in the classroom who finds it hard to concentrate because he or she is hungry
The young lady who is ashamed because her mother can't afford another school uniform

CitySquare actually tries to touch the lives of all of these people! I want you to help us! At CitySquare, 92 cents of every dollar directly meets the needs of people we serve.

CitySquare organizes an array of services designed to meet the needs of the people categorized as 'poor':

A public interest law firm that provides legal representation for poor families
One of the largest food pantries in Dallas County
Housing for nearly 200 formerly homeless individuals
Job Training for more than 100 people a year
we fight the businesses that keep poor neighborhoods poor, like metal recyclers and payday lenders, and we keep people informed on the issues that impoverish all communities
and much, much more!

You can make an end of the year gift that will help us reach the goal of $1 million before 2014. No gift is too small. Every dollar and dime makes a difference.

Together we can  fight poverty throughout Dallas and beyond!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mayor Mike Rawlings - His View on the Coming Year

I thought you might want to hear this interview with Mayor Mike Rawlings with Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News and Sports Radio 1310 AM/96.7 FM 'The Ticket'. It's an interesting view of how the Mayor thinks, what his priorities are and how he sees Dallas.

I think this Mayor's progressive but practical views on the role of education and the assets that we have to address the problems, are interesting and bold...if not popular. Personally, I like the Mayor because he is clear. You know the direction he wants the city to go and there is room for competing visions.

If your not particularly attune to public events, this might be helpful to hear...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel

Let me first say, that I don't know John Piper's stance on every aspect of the Gospel. Indeed its quite possible that there are many aspects upon which we disagree. But I do believe his stance on the 'prosperity gospel' is logical and right.

It's tempting nowadays to seek an easy way out. Or to seek a pathway to the realization of all that God has for us that avoids pain or even poverty. There are some who even believe that if you believe in God 'hard enough' you won't have any hardships; if fact they believe that hardships are created by our lack of faith.

Piper's words speak directly to such people, as do the Words of Jesus: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer ; I haveovercome the world" (John 16:33).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Duck Dynasty & The Admission of Who 'We' Is

It's pretty much a given that the country is split down the middle as to what to do about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson in light of his recent comments of race and sex. At least those of us who have paid at least a scintilla of attention fall off on one side of the ideological side of this debate or the other.

Now, before you get too far into reading this, you need to know that I don't watch 'Duck Dynasty'. In fact the only time I've paid attention to it was when I was watching it when visiting my step mother several months ago. On my list of favorite shows it doesn't rank...

But it is telling that the show's stars are themselves a minor industry. It is also telling that the characters are popping up all over the tube, so whether or not you're interested your senses and sensibilities have most likely been assaulted.

So of course, when Phil Robertson shoots off his mouth about gays and goes even further in by recalling a kindler, gentler era when blacks he worked with were happy - before food stamps and other types of entitlements, it makes noise and it makes news.

But here's a larger point that no one seems to mention: aren't these networks aware of these characters feelings about things before they let them on the air. I mean, let's face it, I don't expect Phil Robertson to change. But I am startled to find out that the A&E Network would banish Robertson from filming as if he just showed up on the scene and started spouting this irrelevant nonsense.

Who was sent out to talk to the Duck Dynasty clan? Who did investigation on them to make sure they were either politically correct, or refreshingly incorrect? And what is the difference between this crew and the Real Housewives of Atlanta, for instance, who say things equally upsetting on their show but are somewhat reticent when it comes to their personal lives?

And I guess that's why I'm not too worked up about the Duck Dynasty flap. Phil Robertson has an uninformed point of view. He is hardly going to recruit followers. Viewers will grow and bail depending upon how outrageous the Dynasty crew gets. The real question is will networks continually let these unvetted characters appear on camera and then feign shock when other networks and reporters dig into their pasts and find something unsavory.

When I think of Phil Robertson and the rest of the Dynasty crew, I can't help but remember my old deacon at the church I pastored. I stopped by his house for a visit and somewhere during the course of our time together the deacon declared with ungrammatical profundity, 'You know Rev., you can't be nothing but what you is!"

These backwoods, backwater fundamentalist believers can't be anything but what they 'is'. The real question is who is 'we' to put up with this...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Praying You All Have A Joyous Christmas

For unto us a child is born , unto us a son is given : and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6, 7

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Scene From Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol'

 At  last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us."
Which all the family re-echoed.

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

"Spirit," said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before,"tell me if Tiny Tim will live."
"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."
"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit. Say he will be spared."

"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

So At Least I Still Have My Health!

A funny thing happened to me on the way to my last column/blog post - I had a stroke!

Those of you who have followed me on other social media realize that this is not something I've been bashful about.In October, I experienced what, in retrospect, what may have been a TIA - a severe one. When I was released from the hospital, I  experienced what may be considered a residual episode of that event.

This recent episode was something different, however.

I was awakened from a late Saturday night sleep, thirsty and without feeling the need to go back to bed any time soon. I sat up in my office, channel surfing and looking at what I could catch good on TV. Thirty minutes into whatever I was looking at, I noticed I couldn't really 'feel' the right side of  my body! I tried to reach for the phone to call my wife, asleep in the other room, but I couldn't reach the phone which was on my desk! I finally ambled around my desk, sat exhausted at the phone and called her. She and my daughter tried to help me up and it was no use!

My daughter was the one who told us we needed to call an ambulance, and with that came other anxieties. In the ambulance, I became aware of other weaknesses, most obvious was a growing numbness on my right side. And a growing loss of speech.

Well, to make a long story short, doctors, after several tests determined that my original episode was indeed a stroke and this was some sort of abnormal continuation of that. I spent a week in rehab and was released afterwards, to outpatient care. Prognosis is that I'll be back to normal in little or no time.

Of course questions abound as to how this came about. Naturally the first culprit was smoking. I've smoke now for some 40 years now and adverse affects have been few, even when it comes to check ups. And even though I've been warned, warnings in the absent of empirical evidence of direct negative impact, really is little more than a sign to continue.Was it the spin of medicines that I was one? Probably. It appears that the regime  that they have me own currently, is working and while not fully ambulatory, I'm nearly back to normal. It seems to be a combination of at least these to things and I'm determined to find my way out.

At any rate, I wanted to thank you who knew and those who weren't quite sure for your concern! It's been heartwarming to say the least. Thanks to my children. I forget what hard nosed girls I've raised. The oldest daughter, Carrie, raised questions which, while not leading to positive test results, resulted in a test which eliminated another possibility. My other two daughters, Adrienne and Camary have been wonderful in their support.

I cannot say enough about my wife.Throughout all of this, I know she must be frightened, but she's been a soldier and it has caused me to find new reasons to love her.

Finally, thanks to Larry James and CitySquare, this has been a trying time during a growth period for us. And I know my absence hasn't helped much, but I appreciate Larry and the team understanding and being willing to help us in anyway possible. There encouragement has meant more than they realize!

I certainly want to include Keilah Jacques, whom I would not have been able to get through this period without. She has rearranged, adjusted and sifted through meeting requests and deadlines; she has filled in where she could and in general been useful in a most formidable way! Thanks Keilah.

So what does this mean for CTW? Oh you'll hear from me relatively soon and often. Early on it won't be everyday while I focus on recovery, but often enough to let you know I'm paying attention. And then there are other changes that I think will prompt a more activist model for Public Policy and social engagement. In other words, we're still on it!

In the meantime...thanks...a LOT!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's Time to Make the Affordable Care Act Work

As I've said, it's not pointing out the weaknesses of the Affordable Care Act that bother me, it's the constant drumbeat of tragic negativity that drives me to distraction. And that drumbeat is led by the GOP. There is a real opportunity to address structural deficiencies in President Obama's plan to reform health care delivery and insurance.

For instance, at it's best, tens of millions will be left without health insurance. In states that have opted out of setting up their own health exchanges and refused to expand Medicaid, is there a solution to cover these Americans? Or, what about those citizens who may actually have to pay more for insurance in a state or federal exchange? What about a tax break for them on the difference between what the exchange offers and what they would have to pay should the decide to keep their insurance? What the Republican dominated House of Representatives doesn't understand is that 'repeal and replace' is not an option and 'we will all die' is not policy.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker has it right when she says, "When Republicans say the health-care plan is doomed, a train wreck, a disaster, etc. — and offer no hopeful options — they appear to be rooting only for failure.

"This approach is a blessing for Democrats, who have responded by shining a light on success stories: the 25-year-old who gets to stay on his parents’ insurance plan another year, the child or elderly parent with a preexisting condition who now can get insurance, the family who never could afford insurance and now can, thanks to . . .well, all those people who are now mandated to buy insurance of a certain type or else.
"Comparing approaches, President Obama is wearing love beads and planting flowers in the gun barrels of the Republican guard.
"What Democrats know keenly — and Republicans seem never to learn — is that positive beats negative every time. Thus, we see MSNBC’s clever montage of Republican negativity: A series of unfriendly faces decrying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with apocalyptic language. Which would any everyday American prefer? The healer or the doomsayer? The elves or the orcs?
"This is not precisely reality, but perception drives policy as much as reality does. The key for Republicans is to drop the negative attacks and refocus energies on the positives of their plans..."
Of, course that begs the question, "What plans...?"
Parker is left with remnants of plans that have been proposed and rejected. For instance, she cites remedies offered by for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (who by the way, was one of the last sane voices to leave the senate) and Frank Macchiarola, former Republican staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Their proposals include, "...improvements to our health care system should begin with a basic focus on three core principles: reducing the cost of health care, providing greater access to care and increasing the quality of the care provided.
"It is important to recognize that, for too long, too many health care consumers have been separated from the cost of care and thus have no incentive to make the wise choices they would otherwise make as informed consumers.
"Policies such as unlimited health savings accounts to address this problem would go a long way toward reducing healthcare spending by the consumer. Additionally, health care consumers value greater choice in shaping their own needs. Forcing people into exchanges that dictate the type of care they must receive restrains choice and increases costs."
Of course, all of these might be reasonable alternative proposals if all consumers of health care were savvy customers - or if the earned enough money to not have to make  a choice between say, an electric bill or rent, or a health savings account. Not to mention the fact that not only are the 'three core principles: reducing the cost of health care, providing greater access to care and increasing the quality of the care provided', at the heart of the ACA but people are not 'forced' into exchanges, they are given a range of options for coverage within those exchanges.
When the Affordable Care Act was introduced, it was criticized as being a too complex, system wide overhaul of a medical delivery system wrapped around the axle of our economy. It was, after all, 1000 pages long - who had time to read it (except lawmakers with staff whose job it was to do such things). And on occasion a Republican lawmaker would come up with an alternative: generally one sheet of paper, written on (front and back - I hope), that was the cure for 'Obamacare'. That plan was rejected. 
The Affordable Care Act was brought of for repeal of some sort, almost 50 times. The Supreme Court found it fundamentally Constitutional. It was litigated and voted upon in Congress and every lawmaker, had a chance to cast his or her vote for or against it. The President ran on it as a signature piece of legislation passed during his first term. Radical Republican Conservatives shut down the government over it's implementation. 
And yet it remains the law of the land. 
It's time to make this work. But that does take statesmen with standing who have the future of their country in mind, not just politicians determined to gin up their base for the next election. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Slowly but Surely the Affordable Care Act is Working

I, for one, refuse to believe that the news about the Affordable Care Act is all bad. In fact, the brouhaha over the website, while a serious blunder, doesn't represent an irreparable problem. In fact media tends to refuse to consistently make the distinction between how the State Exchanges are faring in states that have accepted medicaid expansion (like California and Kentucky), and states that have refused to set up their own exchanges opting for the Federal Exchange (like Texas and Louisiana). 
Yes, some people have been informed of the cancellation of their health insurance policies, but how many of them, like one woman in California simply failed to get a full understanding of what she would be offered in the exchange and ended up paying only a few dollars more through the exchange. That doesn't mean that some won't have to pay more. But the catastrophic pain forecast by critics of the law are clearly hyping the misery of some to their own political advantage. 
And a recent column by Paul Krugman suggests that the longer term goal of President Obama's far reaching signature law, bending the curve on health costs, is indeed doing just that. Find the full column here and below you can find the report he references in the column...
"The law establishing Obamacare was officially titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And the “affordable” bit wasn’t just about subsidizing premiums. It was also supposed to be about “bending the curve” — slowing the seemingly inexorable rise in health costs.
"Much of the Beltway establishment scoffed at the promise of cost savings. The prevalent attitude in Washington is that reform isn’t real unless the little people suffer; serious savings are supposed to come from things likeraising the Medicare age (which the Congressional Budget Office recently concluded would, in fact, hardly save any money) and throwing millions of Americans off Medicaid. True, a 2011 letter signed by hundreds of health and labor economists pointed out that “the Affordable Care Act contains essentially every cost-containment provision policy analysts have considered effective in reducing the rate of medical spending.” But such expert views were largely ignored.
"So, how’s it going? The health exchanges are off to a famously rocky start, but many, though by no means all, of the cost-control measures have already kicked in. Has the curve been bent?
"The answer, amazingly, is yes. In fact, the slowdown in health costs has been dramatic.
"O.K., the obligatory caveats. First of all, we don’t know how long the good news will last. Health costs in the United States slowed dramatically in the 1990s (although not this dramatically), probably thanks to the rise of health maintenance organizations, but cost growth picked up again after 2000. Second, we don’t know for sure how much of the good news is because of the Affordable Care Act.
"Still, the facts are striking. Since 2010, when the act was passed, real health spending per capita — that is, total spending adjusted for overall inflation and population growth — has risen less than a third as rapidly as its long-term average. Real spending per Medicare recipient hasn’t risen at all; real spending per Medicaid beneficiary has actually fallen slightly..."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Everyday is Labor Day when You Work for Minimum Wage

Of course it's past Labor Day. But Robert Reich's solutions to income inequality and an enhanced standard of living for low wage earners is just as pertinent now as it was a few months ago. 

As the holidays are upon us and we think about the economy, how much people will spend for Christmas. This is not just an appeal to greed, the nation's fiscal health is largely dependent upon Yuletide generosity. Yet where will that money come from without decent wages and a people confident enough to spend their earnings? We need people to consume goods and use services in order to restore our economy to health.
But a decent wage and a fairness for low income workers means a lot more and Reich does a great job of explaining that here.

Its a pretty good bet that the movie,  'Inequality for All' will show up in CitySquare's documentary offerings in 2014 and that living wage jobs will be on our public policy agenda...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Fast Food Industry Could do the Right Thing and Benefit

On Thursday fast food workers in 100 cities are preparing to go on strike. They are looking for a hike in their wages of at least $12 an hour. Of course the industry remains defiant for all of the usual reasons, most of which could be summed up with the words, 'The sky will fall!'
But what if McDonald's, Burger King, Whataburger and whomever else, decided that they would give in to the workers demands? What if they decided that the right thing to do was to pay their workers more. What would the backlash be? What would the customers think. 
Perhaps, according to columnist Jena McGregor writing in the Washington Post, it would actually result in some benefits for the employees, of course, but also the companies themselves...
"Electing to pay workers more could lower the industry’s high turnover rates, driving down the cost of hiring and training new workers. It could bring in better or more experienced workers who are more satisfied in their jobs, leading to better customer service, greater productivity and, therefore, potentially higher profits. And if one of these companies put a stake in the ground and voluntarily boosted its wages at least somewhat, it could prompt competitors to follow suit, potentially letting the air out of the legislative effort to raise the mandated minimum wage even higher.
"Most of all, being the first company to choose to voluntarily to pay workers more would bring positive publicity that could lead to an increase in sales. Last week, the Swedish clothing retailer H&M announced that it intends to ensure its garment workers are paid a living wage. While it’s unclear exactly what that means, the news generated plenty of flattering news coverage, from an editorial in the New York Times to applause from the Telegraph. (A typical response in my Facebook feed: “I’m shopping at H&M this Christmas.”)
"Sure, boosting the pay of low-wage workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia may not be the same as boosting the wages of U.S. workers. But the underlying philosophy is the same: Committing to do the right thing before it’s forced upon you can be good business. It often leads to more satisfied workers, more loyal customers and, potentially, fewer regulatory demands. And it’s especially good business if your company is the one that leads the way and gets all the attention for doing so."th
Maybe doing the right thing could have benefits after all...like making corporations really appear human.
Read the rest of the column here...

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Listening Ear...Can We Get a Responsive Government?

Nia Timmons (back left) and Anisa Davis (center) meet with staffers for Congressman Robert Andrews (D-NJ). (Photo: Victoria Egan/Center for Hunger-Free Communities)

It's probably a pretty old trick. It's reprehensible nonetheless. 
CitySquare staff and neighbors went to Austin during this years legislative session to advocate for Medicaid expansion. The legislature, which is overwhelmingly Republican and conservative had prepared for the onslaught of advocates from across the state (at a rally outside the state capitol, estimates ran about 3000 people). 
After the rally, most of us went in to talk with legislators about the need for the expansion of the healthcare benefit so critical to the success of the affordable care act, but also which meant jobs, expanded healthcare for the critically and chronically ill children and adults - many of whom were there. 
We couldn't find any GOP legislators...
We found out later that anticipating having to deal with actually talking to citizens whose health and very lives would be impacted by not expanding Medicaid, they would all simply make themselves 'unavailable'. They left their staffs, who could only say that they would convey our concerns to the lawmakers, were inadequate substitutes. The fact is the legislators couldn't face citizens impacted by their policies. 
The parents in this story, were more successful at the federal level than we were. They were dealing with hunger and the sad state of affairs when poor people, reliant on public assistance try and do something as basic as feed their children. They found a listening ear at least...now they need a compassionate and responsive government...
Nia Timmons was stressed.
A mother of three, she works full-time as an assistant teacher at a pre-K program in Camden, New Jersey where she earns $12 per hour. By the second week of November, she still hadn’t received her family’s food stamp (SNAP) benefits and she didn’t know why. She thought it might be due to the SNAP cut on November 1 that hit 48 million people, including 22 million children, but she couldn’t get any answers from the Camden Board of Social Services.
“I’ve not heard from anyone there, and I can’t reach anyone either,” said Timmons.
She told me her story in a coffee shop in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building last week. She had traveled to Capitol Hill along with four of her “Witnesses to Hunger sisters” from Camden, Philadelphia and Boston to speak with members of Congress about the impact their policy decisions are having on people who live in poverty. Witnesses to Hunger is a project of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at the Drexel University School of Public Health. Participants are mothers and caregivers of young children who use photography and testimonials to document their experiences and advocate for change at the local, state and federal levels. There are more than eighty Witnesses in various cities on the East Coast.
Timmons and Anisa Davis — also from Camden — shared their experiences with staffers for their representatives, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Democratic Congressman Robert Andrews. The other Witnesses met with legislative aides for their respective senators and representatives too. They also sat down with staffers for Republicans on the farm bill conference committee, including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Florida Congressman Steve Southerland. All of the Witnesses met directly with Democratic Congressmen Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and with Kellie Adesina, legislative director for Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge.
I was invited to sit in on the meeting with Adesina.
Quanda Burrell, a mother of two from Boston, told her story of being just one semester shy of her teacher’s assistant degree when she was informed that her Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance would run out in two weeks. Her caseworker said she needed to drop out of school and enter a “career readiness program” in order to continue to receive assistance. The Witnesses say these programs often lead to no jobs or dead-end jobs, and are frequently run by for-profit companies.
Burrell felt she was forced to choose between feeding her family in the immediate term or staying in school so she could attain a stable income in the very near future. She dropped out. But the extension of TANF assistance turned out to be just for two months, and so her only current income is a small stipend she receives for work for Thrive in Five, which promotes early childhood education in Boston. She can’t afford to re-enroll in school and now her rent is due.
“It affects you mentally, emotionally, physically — it drains you,” said Burrell. “You have to hide it from your children. You gotta pretend like you’re not struggling with this, but you really are. You don’t want your kids to feel that stress. But it does trickle down.”
Read the rest of the story here....

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pope Francis Denounces Economic Inequality

“…Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?

“This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.  We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us…”

Read the full message here...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why Do We Hate Poor People (or What Kind of People Are These?)

Nicholas Kristof
Nicholas Kristof writes a very insightful, and to me, disturbing column calling for 'a conversation about empathy for fellow humans in distress.'

I'm normally an optimistic person. But I don't think what Kristof is suggesting will work. I think the problem is far more troublesome that simply training people to think sympathetically or empathetically about the poor. 

Kristof's examples are troubling...

"A reader named Keith reflected a coruscating chorus when he protested: “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”
"A reader in Washington bluntly suggested taking children from parents and putting them in orphanages.
"Jim asked: “Why should I have to subsidize someone else’s child? How about personal responsibility? If you procreate, you provide.”
"After a recent column about an uninsured man who delayed seeing a doctor about a condition that turned out to be colon cancer, many readers noted that he is a lifelong smoker and said he had it coming.
"“What kind of a lame brain doofus is this guy?” one reader asked. “And like it’s our fault that he couldn’t afford to have himself checked out?”
"Such scorn seems widespread, based on the comments I geton my blog and Facebook page — as well as on polling and on government policy. At root, these attitudes reflect a profound lack of empathy.
"A Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske, has found that when research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people. Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion."

About five years ago, I wrote a blog post on this same issue asking, 'Do We Hate the Poor', I have long since come to the conclusion that there are an alarming number of people who do. 

These people tend to make me angry. They tend to respond to human tragedy as if they are immune to any of the vicissitudes to which many of the poor have fallen heir: the arrest, based on mistaken identity; the death of a spouse that can send one into an emotional tailspin; the loss of a job when one is too old and one's savings dry up; an illness that comes out of nowhere; a natural catastrophe that causes one to lose all that one has.

I remember after Katrina, an interview with an evacuee (we were still calling them 'refugees' then!), who said, 'Yesterday I was rich!'. Then there were the stories in the wake of the Great Recession, which, happened a week or so after my post was written...the families who lost their homes, their jobs, the suicides of people who's wealth was obliterated. 

The people whose gross insensitivity and unadulterated meanness in the face of poverty, are people who fear becoming like the people they loathe. They are people who have so locked down their hearts that they no longer believe they have room for compassion. They believe that the poor are impeding their ascendancy to the 1 percent (and as our Urban Engagement Book Club reviewer, Randy Mayeaux has reminded us, 'There can only be '1 percent' in the 1 percent'.  They are painfully afraid that they will be called upon to care. And worse, to act. And so they castigate the poor. They call them names. 

Maybe we just know more about them now because of social media. Maybe people say what they feel because they don't have to use their real names. They can post 'anonymously'. Their friends, neighbors, or co-workers don't know how they feel. Their neighbors who volunteer to help the less fortunate, don't realize that they live next door to someone who harbors rancor towards someone who can't find a job because they just got out of jail, or another neighbor who happens to be a single parent on food stamps. 

Kristof says, "John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a “veil of ignorance” — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?"

The poor are problems. 

Of course, that is, until they or someone they know and love, becomes one of them. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Column in Today's Dallas Morning News

A woman holds a bag of pears as she waits in line to receive free food at the Richmond Emergency Food Bank this month in Richmond, California. An estimated 47 million Americans saw their food stamp benefits cut starting Nov. 1 as temporary relief to the federal program ended.

SNAP cut hurts the economy as well as the poor


Nonprofits and other groups working to assist the poor cried foul this month at news that $5 billion would be cut from the food stamp program in 2014. Critics of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) countered that this reduces dependency on a government entitlement program that our country can’t afford. Meanwhile, with the holidays upon us, attention will focus on compassion and charities’ attempts to feed the hungry, a challenge made even greater by the cut.

However, the poor may not be the only ones suffering because of Congress’ SNAP action. It’s a cut that we could all feel eventually.
The Daily Kos political blog looked at how much the SNAP reduction would cost Delaware. Go to dailykos.com to see how the calculations were done, but the bottom line is this: Grocery stores across the state will receive $1 million less in sales each month.
How will the $5 billion cut affect Dallas? Using the Daily Kos formula, I looked at the 30th Congressional District, where 23 percent of residents live below the poverty line. That percentage pretty accurately reflects the total percentage of people living below the poverty line in Texas as a whole.
Based on my calculations, about 40,000 households in the 30th District will buy $1.1 million less in groceries per month. And remember that this is just a piece of the overall picture. More than 400,000 people are on SNAP in Dallas County; almost 4 million Texans receive the benefit.
Even if families and individuals compensate for the SNAP cuts by budgeting their dollars differently or if the impact is not as severe as portrayed, it’s clear that millions of dollars are being siphoned out of the economy at the expense of poor Americans.
Across the country, 47 million Americans receive federal food assistance. For every $1 spent on SNAP, there is an economic benefit of $1.80.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4 million citizens were kept out of poverty because of SNAP. The center also projects that just as the program effectively responded to the recession through the aid it provided low-income Americans, it will shrink on its own in the next couple of years as the economy improves.
SNAP spending in the first quarter of calendar year 2013 was only 0.3 percent higher than for the same period in 2012. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also states, “Unlike health care programs and Social Security, there are no significant demographic or programmatic pressures that will cause SNAP costs to grow faster than the economy.”
The Heritage Foundation notes that the $5 billion wasn’t really a “cut.” It’s the discontinuation of a temporary expansion of a benefit. But conservatives can’t have it both ways. They claimed that ending the temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax amounted to a tax “hike.” If the restoration of the payroll tax was a hike, then SNAP benefits have been cut.
But semantics don’t really matter here. Congress did far more than take food out of citizens’ mouths; lawmakers yanked $5 billion out of the U.S. economy.
The Rev. Gerald Britt Jr. is vice president of public policy at CitySquare. His email address is gbritt@citysquare.org. He blogs at www.changethewind.org.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Search for a More Perfect Union Calls for Us All to Cross Many Rivers Together

We owe an unprecedented debt of gratitude to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, for the stirring presentation and interpretative of the lives of Black Americans in this country. It is particularly important because the prevailing sentiment in many quarters of the dominant society that Black life doesn't have to be understood, it needs to be dismissed and that racism no longer exists because the fire hoses and police dogs that represented the most virulent and violent forms of oppression are gone. 

In the last installment of 'The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross', Gates reminds us of the extent to which barriers to equality are embedded in the very structure of American life and remain the final frontier on the pathway to freedom.

An irony to be noted: the rise  of the Black Panthers, who exerted their 2nd Amendment Rights to defend their communities and the crushing of that movement and the eventual deaths of demonized young black men brought about by the dominant society's embrace of their rights to bare concealed weapons and 'stand your ground laws'. 

The least thoughtful among us will raise narrow questions which actually prove that we are not equal, but in their minds are a - at best naive suggestion the exceptional among us are proof of equality. It's akin to saying that if the success of Steven Jobs, means every white person who knows how to program a computer should be a billionaire by now. 

Gates' point is that every equality for every American means a greater democratic truth and example for the entire world. We cannot settle for anything less, and on that journey ALL Americans have many to cross...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Now's Not the Time to Cut Social Security

I have no idea whether Elizabeth Warren will run for President. But if she remains a U.S. Senator, she will be one of the most the greatest champions for the middle class that our country has ever known. The following are her remarks on the fate of Social Security and the plight of those of us with any slim hope of retiring in the near future....

Senator Elizabeth Warren

"...Social Security has been under attack. Monthly payments are modest, averaging
about $1,250, and over time the benefits are shrinking in value. This puts a terrible squeeze
on our seniors.

"With tens of millions of people more financially stressed as they approach retirement, with more
and more people left out of the private retirement security system, and with the economic
security of our families unraveling, Social Security is rapidly becoming the only lifeline that
millions of seniors have to keep their heads above water. And yet, instead of taking on the
retirement crisis, instead of strengthening Social Security, some in Washington are actually
fighting to cut benefits.

"Just this morning, the Washington Post ran an editorial mocking the idea of a looming retirement
crisis. To make sure no one missed the point, they even put the words “retirement crisis” in
quotation marks. No retirement crisis? Tell that to the millions of Americans who are facing
retirement without a pension. Tell that to the millions of Americans who have nothing to fall
back on except Social Security. There is a $6.6 trillion gap between what Americans under 65
are currently saving and what they will need to maintain their current standard of living when
they hit retirement. $6.6 trillion—and that assumes Social Security benefits aren’t cut.ix Make no
mistake: This is a crisis.

"The call to cut Social Security has an uglier side to it, too. The Washington Post framed the
choice as more children in poverty versus more seniors in poverty. The suggestion that we have
become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed
off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong. This is about our values, and our
values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will
be left to starve.

"I hold deep values, and I look at basic facts. Today, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus. If
we do nothing, Social Security will be safe for the next 20 years and even after that will continue
to pay most benefits. With some modest adjustments, we can keep the system solvent for many
more years – and could even increase benefits.

"The tools to help us build a future are available to us now. We don’t start the debate by deciding
who gets kicked to the curb. We are Americans. We start the debate by figuring out how to
create better efficiencies, how to make small changes that will make the system fairer, how to
grow the pool of those who contribute, how to rebuild a system that every single one of us can
rely on to make sure that there is a baseline in retirement that no one falls below.
We don’t build a future for our children by cutting basic retirement benefits for their
grandparents. No, we build a future for our kids by strengthening our economy, by investing in
education and infrastructure and research, by rebuilding a strong and robust middle class in
which every kid gets a chance—and the most vulnerable have a strong safety net..."

The rest of her remarks can be read here...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not Us...No, Not Us!

Judgement at Nuremberg, is one of my all time favorite movies. Burt Lancaster is riveting as Nazi judge Dr. Ernst Janning. It is a meaningful performance among many meaningful performances: Spencer Tracey, Maxmillian Schell, Marlene Dietrich and Richard Widmark. 

Lancaster's speech here is also is a masterpiece. It defines the difference between nationalism and patriotism. It is a narrative regarding what people will do when frightened often enough and long enough to believe they need a scapegoat to blame and restore them to their former 'glory'. It serves as a lamentable apologetic for those so desperate for power that they will abandon all standards of human decency, every shred of compassion, every sense of right and wrong, until they consider human life expendable.

When I watched 'Judgement...' last week, I was reminded of all of this. An I thought about us. I thought about the insanity of all of the gun violence we're experiencing in this country. How there are people who still believe the lives of the innocent victims - pick them - are acceptable collateral damage in defense of an out dated interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. 

I thought about the ugliness with which we talk about one another. Oh, now we do it in side-bar conversations. Or we hide behind the thick curtain of the blogasphere, or other modes of social media that allow us to trade our real names for 'anonymous'. 

I thought about how indifference toward the poor has turned to outright irrationality if not hostility. We don't want the poor to have sex or birth control. If they have children, we feel no need to educate, feed, or see that they are adequately housed. We believe that each person should receive a return from our taxes commensurate with what we've paid (when in actuality, most people who feel that way, come from the poorest states, where federal support far outweighs what they pay in taxes. Those states, by the way, are primarily southern). We forget that many of the people held in so little regard by so many, paid taxes, fought for their country, reared children and suffered some illness - for which, by the way - we believe we have no reason to provide them with any for of health care. 

We are more sophisticated than the Ernst Jannings of the world. No silver tongued orator will be able to sweep us off of our feet and lead us down some prime rose path. We listen to people who tell us what we want to hear on radio, or television. We have our fears and apprehensions confirmed in blog posts and in conversations with neighbors in gerrymandered districts. 

We can't be fooled...

Not yet...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Michael Sorrell - Education Pioneer

One of the greatest pleasures of my profession are the relationships I've develop! Paul Quinn College president, Michael Sorrell is one such relationships. He and I have written an op-ed together. We have participated in programs together and have consulted with one another on best practices to serve our communities. Paul Quinn and CitySquare are exploring ways in which we can work together to make an even deeper impact on southern Dallas.

I love this guy! Here's his TED Talk that talks about his revolutionary concept in urban post secondary education. It's fantastic! I know you'll enjoy it...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mayor Mike Rawlings Did Dallas Proud!

I once introduced Mike Rawlings' as one of my favorite mayors of our city. He confirmed that feeling and affection on Friday as he gave the address on Dallas' commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He expressed simply, yet profoundly and almost eloquently the emotions, yearnings and ambitions of a city that still struggles to some degree to outlive that great tragedy. 

Rawlings did Dallas proud on yesterday as he framed the ceremony and challenged us to build upon that darkest day an even greater city than we have become. 

Thanks Mayor Mike, you honored Dallas with your words, your service and your spirit!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Text of JFK's Dallas Speech

These words are excerpts of the text of the speech that President John F. Kennedy was to give at the Dallas Trade Mart luncheon in Dallas on November 22, 1963. 

"I am honored to have this invitation to address the annual meeting of the Dallas Citizens Council, joined by the members of the Dallas Assembly -- and pleased to have this opportunity to salute the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest.

"It is fitting that these two symbols of Dallas progress are united in the sponsorship of this meeting. For they represent the best qualities, I am told, of leadership and learning in this city -- and leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial and political support and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership's hopes for continued progress and prosperity. It is not a coincidence that those communities possessing the best in research and graduate facilities -- from MIT to Cal Tech -- tend to attract the new and growing industries. I congratulate those of you here in Dallas who have recognized these basic facts through the creation of the unique and forward-looking Graduate Research Center.

"This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country's security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America's leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.
There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.

"But today other voices are heard in the land -- voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

"We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will "talk sense to the American people." But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.

"I want to discuss with you today the status of our strength and our security because this question clearly calls for the most responsible qualities of leadership and the most enlightened products of scholarship. For this Nation's strength and security are not easily or cheaply obtained, nor are they quickly and simply explained. There are many kinds of strength and no one kind will suffice. Overwhelming nuclear strength cannot stop a guerrilla war. Formal pacts of alliance cannot stop internal subversion. Displays of material wealth cannot stop the disillusionment of diplomats subjected to discrimination.

"...it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses of freedom, while demonstrating to all concerned the opportunities of our system and society.

"It is clear, therefore, that we are strengthening our security as well as our economy by our recent record increases in national income and output -- by surging ahead of most of Western Europe in the rate of business expansion and the margin of corporate profits, by maintaining a more stable level of prices than almost any of our overseas competitors, and by cutting personal and corporate income taxes by some $11 billion, as I have proposed, to assure this Nation of the longest and strongest expansion in our peacetime economic history.

"This Nation's total output -- which 3 years ago was at the $500 billion mark -- will soon pass $600 billion, for a record rise of over $100 billion in 3 years. For the first time in history we have 70 million men and women at work. For the first time in history average factory earnings have exceeded $100 a week. For the first time in history corporation profits after taxes -- which have risen 43 percent in less than 3 years -- have an annual level of $27.4 billion.

"My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

"That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions -- it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations -- it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

"We in this country, in this generation, are -- by destiny rather than choice -- the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, good will toward men." That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: "except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.""

The full text of the speech can be found here...